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Opinion - The good news about lab-grown diamonds

Man-made Diamonds, lab-made Diamonds, lab grown diamonds, synthetic diamonds and many other names have been given to what many consider to be a threat to the diamond industry. When referring to the matter it is almost as if people are asking, “to be or not to be?” I say: to be and to thrive.

Diamonds have come a long way since the Greeks and Romans thought that diamonds were tears of Gods and small pieces of stars. Maybe they are not but they can still fly us to the stars or at least play a big role in doing so.

People have often wondered what a diamond can be used for except for adorning as an object of beauty and a gift of love. Though Love is more than enough reason, there is a long list of possibilities for diamond usage. Industrial diamonds and lab made industrial diamonds have an important role in various industries. Industrial natural diamonds have been mainly of a poor quality. High quality natural diamonds have been too expensive for industrial usage. A new technology is about to change the rules of the game.

The first man made diamond was manufactured in Sweden in 1953 by Quintus, a lab, and the engineer Anders Kampe. This lab created the diamond manufacturing process. Bulky and huge machines were used which were designed by Baltzar Von Platen. However, many people did not know this feat. After one year in 1954 General Electric took a giant step in manufacturing the man made diamond. G.E implemented High – Pressure High - Temperature technology (HPHT), they managed to create a lab grown diamond that was chemically identical to a natural diamond.

Attempts to produce high-grade diamonds with this technology have not been successful. Diamonds produced using this technology could not exceed a certain size and were generally yellow, brown and spotted. The HPHT technology and its variations are still being used to produce an overwhelming majority of synthetic industrial diamonds.

Then came the Chemical Vapor Deposition (CVD) technology. CVD technology has enabled the making of high quality diamonds in a lab. It is rather a slower process but allows a better control of the process.

With high quality diamonds produced in labs we are about to enter a new era. High quality lab made diamonds will have a revolutionary impact on just about every technology. 

Diamonds have a higher thermal conductivity than any other material and therefore can be used to produce accurate, and very fast transmissions without heating like silicon wafers and chips do.

High quality diamonds produced in a predesigned shape will change the course of history as much as steel did to building or transistors to computers. We are about to enter into a diamond age of technology that will allow storage of information in super small spaces. It will be used for enhancing laser beams, or for taking pictures from space at night.

CVD diamonds can help solve one of the computer industry's biggest challenges of squeezing microscopic wires closer together while making the chips run ever faster without the problems posed by rising heat – such as melting.

Scientists are thrilled with the plentiful possibilities, saying that a diamond “is the hardest material, it won’t expand in heat, won't wear, is chemically inert and optically transparent.” “Manufactured diamonds will be like other inventions that were so profound because they made new things possible. This may be the beginning of the diamond age of technology” or "The genie is out of the bottle, and it can never be put back in."

CVD technology can make perfectly clear diamonds wafers and other diamond products and by using boron, it will allow it to conduct a current, turning diamond wafers into a semiconductor. It is obvious that lab made diamonds will find their way into the high-tech industries.

The semiconductor industry is estimated at around 250 billion a year. The diamond sector is a +$20 billion industry at wholesale polished prices. Now comes the billion-dollar question: If you are a woman in love, will you be happy to get a lab made, semiconductor, diamond as a gift of love, or will this cheapen your fiancé in your eyes? If you are a man, will you buy such a diamond as a gesture of love and appreciation?

Some would. There is no doubt that there is a market for lab made diamonds in the jewellery arena. If it becomes cheaper than natural diamonds, it will appeal to the younger generation or to those who do not have sufficient means to buy natural diamonds. It will also appeal to the high-tech minded and to those who like the idea of an environmentally clean product. It is a legitimate market with many good reasons. However, most people will continue to buy natural diamonds for emotional reasons and because they are one of nature’s miracles, as well as for wealth preservation.

Living side by side

Natural and lab-grown diamonds are two complementary products. Eventually, we may see consumers of lab-grown diamonds gradually shifting their gem-set jewellery purchases back to the real thing as they age and improve their economic standing.

Natural diamonds are players in an economy of rarity, which synthetic diamonds could never be. The rarity of diamonds is the wind in the sales of the new trend of turning diamonds into an asset that may help us to preserve wealth.

Will synthetic diamonds actually replace the natural diamond market? We don’t think so.

These two markets are complementary, answering to the needs of different niches.

Many years of lab made or enhanced rubies and sapphires made to perfection can prove that high quality lab-grown gems have not decreased the demand for natural ones. The same goes with pearls, where natural pearls are high-priced because of their uniqueness and alongside them are cultured pearls. Prices of natural pearls have gone up since buyers have alternatives. Lab-grown emeralds are a fantastic product that have offered competition for the lower end goods by offering a better looking alternative for the same money, but top tier natural emeralds are more expensive now than ever before. We can actually check the diamond industry itself. Natural fancy colour diamonds are in high demand and are fetching an incredible premium although there’s a booming market for artificially colored diamonds in red, blue, yellow, green, and more –at a fraction of the prices.

Lab-made white diamonds are still far from being competitively priced. At best, we are talking 30% difference between a natural diamond and a lab made one, but this price difference shrinks with higher quality white diamonds because of the costs involved in growing them.

To allow this market to thrive as a niche market, lab-made diamonds will have to properly be disclosed as such. This is a real concern; the future of our industry depends on controls, regulations and proper disclosure.

There are many reasons people will be willing to pay more for a certain product. Natural diamonds have them all: rarity, uniqueness, prestige, a special story and beauty to name a few. Dan Ariely a professor of behavioural economics at Duke University wrote in his book Predictably Irrational that we need something to compare to when making a choice. He reminds us of the scene in the movie Crocodile Dundee when a New York gangster is pulling out a switchblade to threaten Paul Hogan, who in turn pulls out a huge hunting knife and says: “Is this a knife? Pay attention! This is a knife!” To paraphrase “Is this a diamond?” Pull out a natural diamond and say with pride: “This is a diamond!”

The impact that clean, colourless gem-quality synthetics will have on the jewelry market will largely depend on how extensive marketing efforts promote it, how well they’ll be priced and the perceived social value of choosing them over natural diamonds.

In the meantime, lab-made diamonds are currently only a fraction of the total polished diamond supply, but will they gain a growing following, leading to a change in consumer habits? I doubt it. Lab-made gem-quality diamonds will most likely have a greater impact on technology than on jewellery.

 

The views expressed here are solely those of the author in his private capacity. No one should act upon any opinion or information in this website without consulting a professional qualified advisor.

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